Solar Eclipse Adventure 2012


The May 20, 2012 solar eclipse pulled together four individuals who had studied as planetarium interns at Abrams Planetarium in East Lansing, Michigan.  The quartet is dispersed around the Midwest and we decided to travel to Page, AZ to see the eclipse.  My co-traveler was Carl W, a retired college professor.  We met Tim S, a practicing college professor from Michigan, and his daughter Sara.  Mike B, a magazine editor, rounded out our conjunction.  In addition, Mike organized a group of fellow eclipse chasers who travelled with him to Page.  The photo above shows our group as we waited for the event to begin.

In the photo above during the eclipse, Tim poses with a Sun Spotter, that projects the sun for group viewing.

Mike B. also poses with the Sun Spotter.

Before the eclipse, Carl asked that I take him on a tour of my favorite places in Utah.  During the past two decades, I had explored the canyons and arches near Moab with my wife and daughter.   Carl and I met at the Denver airport and headed west.  We paused in Dillon, Colorado as I was scheduled to deliver an online session for a class I was teaching.  Then we glided down the west side of the Continental Divide, headed for Glenwood Springs where we decided to bike Glenwood Canyon, downhill of course.  A service in town rents bikes as well as hauls the bikes and bikers to a drop off near Dotsero, at the eastern canyon portal.

I70 shares the canyon with the bike path, the Colorado River and the train.

At Hanging Lake, we declined the climb to the lake and posed for photographs.  That’s Carl on the left and your scribe on the right.

In Canyon Country, I planned to show Carl three large arches and other easier features in the area.  I explained that I had planned an easy hike, a medium difficulty hike, and a difficult one to the three arches.

One of the easy features is a series of petroglyph panels in the Colorado gorge near Moab, Utah.  They are along the road and marked by obvious signs.  One of the more interesting images is one that looks like a bear.

Corona Arch was the medium difficulty walk, three miles roundtrip.  The arch is up a canyon adjacent to the railroad tracks.  The hardest part of the walk is the first 50 yards and three short climbs near the arch that are assisted by cables and a ladder.

The arch has been the subject of extreme sports folks.  A group was preparing to swing from the arch during the visit.  This video will show you the scale of the arch.

The above video is one of many appearing on the Internet as “extremeis” rush to replicate the swing.

We moved into Arches National Park where we paused for photos at easy pullouts, such as this one where we can see the Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, Court House Towers and other features.  We began to experiment with the panoramic features on our phones with some of the results included here.

The Windows section offered opportunities to view several classic arches that are easily reached through short walks.  The North Window and South Window are shown above.

When the sun is low, the South Window offers a colorful view of Turret Arch.  This image was made on a return visit just after sunrise.

Double Arch is a large arch pair in the Windows section.  It is an easy walk from the parking lot.  This is my daughter’s favorite arch. 

The easy hike was scheduled for Landscape Arch, a 3.2 mile round trip into the Devil’s Garden section of Arches N.P.  The arch is one of the longest anywhere, stretching over 300 feet.  This arch will topple one day.  It measures about six feet at its thinnest.  About 20 years ago, a section was observed falling from the arch’s center.  Not far away, Wall Arch fell August 4, 2008.  Many features in the park show the curves of fallen arches, now without their upper frames.

The challenging hike was to Delicate Arch.  This is a three-mile round trip hike, with a challenging uphill section that lasts about one-third of the trail.  Depending on the position of the sun, the arch shows a multitude of color, especially against the background of canyons and mountains.

Easy views followed.  The above view is from Dead Horse State Park, where the Colorado River makes a sharp turn as it heads into Canyonlands N.P.  The view has been included in many television advertisements.

Next we moved into Canyonlands to the Grand View Point.  The vertical structures in the center of the canyon stand about 300 feet.  One of the visual challenges is landscape fatigue.  All views are spectacular.   The views are so incredible that the next one does not have the impact as the last. 

Next we headed south and paused at the Goose Necks of the San Juan State Park.  Before reaching the Colorado River, the San Juan River makes sharp meanders.

On the road to meet Tim and his daughter at Monument Valley, we stopped to capture some classic views of the region.

Moving to Page, AZ we visited the Glen Canyon Dam that holds back the strength of the Colorado River.  The dam is immediately upstream from the Grand Canyon.  Notice Lake Powell’s color compared to the river photos above.  As the river reaches the lake, the silt it carries is dropped into the lake’s depths and the lake appears deep blue.  I won’t review the environmentalists’ arguments against the dam.  There are many that are counterbalanced by the reality that the mass of concrete blocks the river’s passage.

While at Page, we searched for grassy areas where we could set up out telescopes for eclipse viewing.  Being in the desert, green spaces were difficult to locate.  School grounds and their associated athletic fields were fenced, gated and locked.  We located a small park near a sports facility.  It served us well as can be seen in the photograph at the top of this posting.

Eclipse Day was spectacular.  The eclipse began in late afternoon and the sun set before the eclipse finished.  The image above is a composite showing the eclipse just before the maximum, at maximum, and just after the maximum phase.  The eclipse was an annular eclipse.  For the most part, the sun and moon appear the same size in the sky.  At this eclipse, the moon was near its farthest point from earth (apogee).  So it appeared slightly smaller than the sun.  The result is a “ring eclipse,” with a ring of sunlight shining around the sun at the maximum eclipse.

For photo enthusiasts, the images were made with a 1,000mm focal length lens at f/11 through a solar filter with exposures ranging from 1/250 to 1/1000 of a second on print film.

A solar eclipse provides many unique photographic opportunities.  Above I hold a piece of solar filter so that Tim can photograph the eclipse through it.

The Sun Spotter provided projected images of the sun as can be seen above, when the eclipse was near its maximum.  This device was a big hit with all the participants and provided group observing as the event progressed.

Any small hole acts as a pinhole projector.  Here as the sun shines through the ventilation holes in my straw hat, small eclipses are visible on my shirt.

As the sun approached the horizon, it passed behind power towers that carry electrical lines from the dam.  The location provided unique images of the tower in silhouette behind the sun.

The sun set while it was in eclipse.  The image above shows the profile of the distant horizon, the eclipse and the silhouette of a powerline.

Heading for the Denver airport, we stopped at Mesa Verde where we went to the Cliff Palace overlook and visited Spruce Tree House.

The trip’s final leg was through southern Colorado and along the Front Range.  Above we pause at the overlook west of Wolf Creek Pass.

The result was great company, great weather, great scenic vistas, and an outstanding eclipse — successful on all accounts.

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